Step By Step Self Learning? the Quantification and Interpretation of Walking Activities

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 66
Oral Presentation
Eric DAGIRAL , Department of Sociology, Université Paris Descartes, Paris, France
In recent years, the rise of sensors and tracking devices in the field of health and fitness has renewed the ways people trace and represent their physical activities. Promising “self knowledge through numbers”, the Quantified Self movement has helped popularize the expectation that continuously wearing an electronic device (wristband, watch, mobile phone, etc.) is key to a better understanding of one’s body, mind and self. Nevertheless the many ways people start and/or stop using such tools, experience and experiment with them are not well documented, especially when it comes to spheres other than sports activities.

Drawing upon an empirical study of how individuals equip and experience -lastingly or not- footsteps tracking devices (Fitbit, Jawbone, etc.), we consider issues of appropriation, embodiment and interpretation these mobile technologies entail. We focus on the practices that allow one to: describe one’s own physical relation to the tool(s) and user interfaces; read into generated data and upcoming application messages; and possibly share these and new data.

Our findings underline the role of meaning making and reflexivity in making pedometers and accelerometers technologies wearable and usable in everyday life’s embodied experience, and ensuring that measurements, data sets and comparisons can be performed. When it comes to confrontation with traces of one’s own -apparently trivial- walking activity, much encoding/decoding and multiple interpretations are at work. For some, the knowledge produced can be criticized for being inaccurate or even pointless, whereas others find motivational support and unexpected ways of relating to their physical activities, on their own or through the online sharing of data and experience. At some point, all users are confronted with the normative dimensions (excess weight, inactivity, illness, etc.) scripted and embedded in these devices and the advice they produce. This in turn questions the sociopolitical implications of these embodied technologies.